The man who built Waltham Abbey’s wartime gunpowder punts

An interesting new book is published today, which is of interest to your Editor, both as it is about barges and bargemen, and because it has a section on the gunpowder punts built during the 1939-45 war for the Royal Gunpowder Factory at Waltham Abbey.

The book, “A Shipwright’s Boy” by Donald Sattin, edited by Richard Hugh Perks, is published by the Faversham Society, 13 Preston Street, Faversham ME13 8NS, at £9.95 + £1.70 p&p.

In this, his third book, Donald describes his upbringing on a farm on the edge of the north Kent mashes and how, at the age of 14, he became an apprentice shipwright at White’s Conyer bargeyard repairing and maintaining sailing barges in trade. It was not a task for the faint-hearted to lie in the mud to re-spike the bottom of a boat knowing there was 60 tons of barge inches above one’s head.

When skippers were short-handed Donald was required to ship as mate aboard some of the last sailing barges to carry bricks from Conyer to London. During the war Donald built gunpowder punts for the Royal Gunpowder Factory at Waltham Abbey. These were transported to Waltham Abbey on a cut-down charabanc where, on arrival, they were clad with elephant hide.

Donald’s interest in boat models stems from the Conyer yard’s collection of half models from which lines were taken off to build the barges. He made his first model sailing barge at an early age. Later, when he qualified as an engineer he became interested in canal boats and started making models of them for major museums – some of them up to 4½ feet in length.  As a master shipwright Donald used his skill and knowledge to build his models to exacting standards, making each part himself and building the models in the same way as the original vessels were built.

When sailing barges ceased to carry cargo and their hulls were being restored back under sail for private ownershi,p Donald’s skills again came to the fore in advising on repair and restoration, often finding himself back in the mud working on a barge’s hull.

Now a few yards short of his 89th birthday, Donald has set down aspects of his remarkable life, about his time as a farmer’s boy, shipwright, engineer, model maker, canal boat enthusiast and bargeman – rich and rewarding experiences.

A4 size with laminated cover, 48pp, 58 photographs (17 in colour) + line drawings